User Retention: Reframing Expectations

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A few months ago we set a goal of getting as many trial users as possible on the phone. It became clear to us that our customization options were pretty massively underutilized—they're designed to be easy to tweak to any business' needs, and a lot of people weren't finding them at all. If we could get users on the phone and make sure that the CRM gets set up exactly how they need it, they'll be more likely to pay for the service when their trial expires.

A great deal of our trial users, of course, are not a good fit for the system and won’t be signing up regardless of what we do. But if we can do a little user retention work and snag those customers who just need a little guidance, we could pick a lot of low-hanging fruit.

It was time to take a good look at our check-in email.

Out With the Old

Our old check-in email would arrive in users’ inboxes a few days after they signed up. We designed it to be extremely simple and unobtrusive, a central tenet of our company's philosophy. Following the logic that a shorter, straight-forward email is Less Annoying, it read:

Subject: Less Annoying CRM Check-up

Now that you've had a few days to try out your CRM account on, I just wanted to check in and see how you're liking everything. If you have any questions or comments, just respond to this email and I'll be happy to help you out.

And it was signed from yours truly, so that a user could reply to the email and I would handle any responses personally. Short. Sweet. Simple.

The email seemed to be reasonably effective—it prompted a consistent stream of emails and calls, usually with a question or two about the basics of the system. However, these conversations almost never touched on the more advanced customization options.

Getting Proactive

With the stated goal in mind of getting more users on the phone, we set about crafting a new email. The first, and perhaps biggest change, was the subject line. Rather than the generic “Less Annoying CRM Check-up” subject line, we placed the call to action right up front:

Subject: Let’s schedule a 30-minute CRM audit

In this subject line, you can see a paradigm shift in approach. First of all, the wording is extremely proactive. It has a specific call to action, unlike the old "Check-up" subject line from the old email.

Also, the way it’s worded is designed specifically to set an expectation. It says, "Hey, getting on the phone for 30 minutes is something that people normally do." In other words, rather than suggesting that we’re always available for a phone call (which we are), we’re trying to make it sound as if speaking to us is a normal part of the setup process. We don't want to be pushy—that's not us. But we do want to make this sound totally run-of-the-mill.

You can see these same attitudes of proactivity and setting expectations in the rest of the email’s text. I won’t bore you with the full email—but here are some key excerpts:

Now that you've had a few days to try out Less Annoying CRM, I'm hoping we can schedule a short call to make sure that everything is set up correctly and that you're getting the most out of the CRM.

Again, there's that specific call to action. We retained the personal feel of the old email—it's still from my email address, and it says "I'm hoping," not "we were hoping." In retrospect, the call to action seems like an obvious change, but we were blind to it until we really took a good look at our user retention methodology.

I'm free most of tomorrow (Tuesday) and the next day. Is there a time that works best for you?

A big obstacle in setting up meetings of this kind is someone just biting the bullet and setting a time. Again, here we’re creating a sort of expectation—let’s chat, and let’s do it as soon as possible. The text of this line automatically changes to adjust the date for tomorrow, and it also adjusts for upcoming weekends by mentioning next Monday instead. Emails due to go out on Friday are put off until the following Monday.

It’s amazing how many people respond to specifically this particular question. Lots of replies that come back just say "How about 3pm ET tomorrow?" or something similar.

Also, feel free to invite others from your company on the call if you'd like.

Notice that this doesn’t say “If you decide to take me up on this offer” at the beginning. It's a subtle difference, but it's important; this phrasing assumes that the call will happen—using this language, we hope to subtlety edge users towards talking to us.

The Results

So far, the results have been great. I spend hours a day speaking with potential users, and in a lot of cases, we get them set up with a system that works for them where otherwise they would have given up and disappeared forever. (That's not a guess, by the way, that's what they tell me.)

While we're not keeping any stats, there’s no doubt that this email has made us much better at opening lines of communication with our potential users and getting them set up with a system for which they’re more likely to pay. And just as importantly, since the system is in a position to be more useful, they're also more likely to keep paying.

Being so proactive—even a little pushy—was slightly outside of our comfort zone, but it has had wonderful results, and not a single person has professed to being annoyed by the forwardness of the email. A bunch of users have even expressed gratitude at our proactive attitude toward talking them through setup (which,  of course, we've been willing to do all along!).

Looking back, what we were doing before was silly. But sometimes it can be hard to see that the policies you’ve had in place forever aren't serving your goals, so it’s important to consistently consider what you hope to achieve with every email and adjust accordingly.

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Is there something that we could be doing better? Notice any wording you don't like? Got a user retention story of your own? Let me know. I'd love to hear your feedback.

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